Bail granted after the accused claimed to reach a settlement with the victims’ families
Cargo vessel SKL-3, which was seized over the death of 34 people in a launch capsize on the Shitalakkhya River in April, has been handed over to its owner on a bond of Tk1.85 crores.
Meanwhile, 14 accused in the same case have been released on bail, Narayanganj court police’s Inspector Md Asaduzzaman told Dhaka Tribune on Monday.
The court instructed the investigating officer to look into all the documents, including the ownership and validity of the ship, said the police officer.
Narayanganj Senior Judicial Magistrate Ahmed Humayun Kabir on Sunday directed the investigating officer to hand over the SKL-3 ship to the authorities through a bond of Tk 1.85 crore.
Earlier, the defence lawyer moved for bail of 14 accused in the case, assuring that they will compensate Tk1.25 lakhs in two phases to the families of the victims and provide them with jobs.
Later on Thursday afternoon, Narayanganj District and Sessions Judge Md Anisur Rahman granted bail to the accused, the inspector added.
The victims’ families said they received compensation but claimed they were not informed the accused would get bail in exchange for it. Speaking to Dhaka Tribune they said they would have “never agreed to it”.
‘Settlement’ with the victim's family before bail
Narayanganj District Court Public Prosecutor Wazed Ali Khokon told Dhaka Tribune that defence counsel Khokon Saha applied for the bail in the District and Sessions Judge's Court on Wednesday.
By that time, out of the families of 34 victims’ families, 30 were given compensation of Tk1 lakh. The court granted bail to the accused till the next hearing after a signed document was submitted to the Narayanganj court stating that they had not lodged any complaint or demand and the money had been paid.
District and Sessions Judge Md Anisur Rahman’s court granted bail to the accused till the next hearing.
The public prosecutor further said that the bail application was submitted more than once before but it was denied every time. Later, bail was sought after reaching an agreement with the victims’ families. That is when the court granted it.
‘Would have never signed the document’
Deen Islam, son of Shamsuddin and Rehana Begum, who were killed in the accident, said: "We don't know anything about the case."
“Earlier this month, I was asked to visit the Narayanganj river police station. When I reached there, a policeman informed me that I will be taken to a place and signing a document there might give me some compensation,” said Deen.
“I was taken to a different building where I had to sign a document in front of two or three people, including lawyer Khokon Saha. After I signed, they gave me Tk2 lakh while Saha assured me of getting a fair trial and promised to provide a job in future,” he added.
Dwip Das, nephew of deceased Parvati Rani Das and Narayan Das, told the Dhaka Tribune that one to one and a half months ago, a phone call came from Narayanganj river police station asking them to meet.
“But after we got there, a police officer advised us to go to meet lawyer Khokon Saha and sign a document. After it was signed, we were given Tk2 lakh and assurance of a fair trial. We know nothing more than that,” said Dwip.
“If we knew that the accused would get bail for that, we would have never done that,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dukhu Mia, who lost his two daughters Sadia Eva and Lata, said a few days ago, a lawyer called on his mobile phone and asked him to come to Narayanganj to talk about the case.
“After going there, I signed a paper and was given Tk1 lakh. Nothing more was said and I do not know what was written in the paper. I heard that the accused have been released. If I knew this would happen, I would have never taken the money. All I want is justice,” he added.
However, the plaintiff in the case, Babu Lal Vaidya, the acting deputy director of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), said he knows nothing about these meetings.
“The court did not inform us of anything. I was asked to file a case, so I did. I know nothing more than that,” he added.
Meanwhile, launch clerk Manjur Ali, who survived the accident that day, said: “The cargo ship was taken away in the morning. We faced great loss, and now we will not get justice even?”
Badiuzzaman Badal, senior vice-chairman of BIWTA, said:" Such silence of BIWTA is due to the cargo ship owners’ relationship with influential people.”
On April 4, around 7 pm, the Munshiganj-bound ML Sabit Al Hasan passenger launch on the Narayanganj-Munshiganj route was hit from behind by the cargo ship SKL-3. The passenger launch capsized, killing 34 passengers including children.
It was later learned the ship belonged to SK Logistics, an organization owned by Awami League MP Sheikh Sarhan Naser Tanmoy in Bagerhat-2 constituency.
On April 6, BIWTA Acting Deputy Director Babu Lal Vaidya filed a case against the unidentified accused in the incident, claiming illegal competition and irresponsibility of the cargo ship driver.
Later on April 8, the cargo with 14 crew members was detained from Gazaria in Munshiganj. The Narayanganj Sadar Naval police, the investigating agency in the case, arrested them.
Meanwhile, after the investigation into the incident, the investigation report of the Ministry of Shipping mentioned that the operation of the cargo ship was going on without permission. The investigation report claimed that the launch sinking was due to the narrowness of the naval route and the reckless speed of the ship.